Durham 911 staffing improving, but call takers still feel overworked

Durham County News

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — In a city that averages more than two shooting incidents per day, the Durham Emergency Communications Center stays busy with 911 calls coming in non-stop.

“We receive a lot of calls, I mean Durham is a very place,” one Durham 911 call operator told CBS 17.

But right now, the Durham 911 call center has 25 openings out of 64, which means about 39 percent of their positions are vacant.

CBS 17 broke the story about a shortage of 911 operators in Durham in December 2020.

From December 2020 to the end of May 2021, 911 calls not answered within a certain amount of time at the Durham 911 call center were forwarded to Raleigh Wake 911.

On June 1, 2021, Durham quit forwarding calls to Raleigh because they said they had enough 911 operators to answer all of their calls.

Over the last month, city officials said they have added four new 911 call takers.

But have calls been getting answered in a timely manner, and are 911 operators still working tirelessly to answer all of the calls?

CBS 17 spoke with one Durham 911 operator who wishes to remain anonymous.

The operator said that all 911 operators are constantly on the phone and there are some days where they still don’t get breaks.

“We’re going in early and leaving late,” the 911 operator said. “There have been times I sat there for 15 hours answering calls, and not gotten a lunch break. You’re exhausted, it’s very mentally taxing.”

But this 911 operator tells CBS 17 that staffing has improved in the last couple of weeks, as they said now there is an average of five people answering calls per shift, whereas before there were about three 911 operators per shift.

“They actually had enough staffing the past couple of days for us to get lunch breaks,” the 911 operator said.

But the 911 operator said a couple of years ago Durham would have as many as 15 people answering 911 calls at a time, and some calls still aren’t getting answered immediately.

“There are times where calls hold yes, do I think this could be avoided? In some instances, absolutely,” the 911 operator said.

Durham Deputy City Manager Bo Ferguson told CBS 17 in an email on June 10th that 88 percent of 911 calls were getting answered in 20 seconds or less and 97 percent of calls were getting answered in 60 seconds or less. This means 3 percent of calls were not getting answered within a minute.

If the Durham 911 call center receives 800 – 1,000 calls a day, that’s an average of 24-30 calls not getting answered in a minute.

This 911 operator tells CBS 17 that the 911 call center is a revolving door as some operators cannot handle the calls and the stress of the job, and since the city can only train four people at a time with the resources they have, positions go unfilled for months.

“We’ve got to do better as a 911 center to get staffing to help answer those calls,” the 911 operator said.

The operator also said that people should only call 911 if they have an immediate emergency because there are many times where people call for non-emergencies and that only ties up the 911 emergency line.

On Thursday, city officials said that four more 911 operators will start taking calls in July. Officials said the city is also in the process of recruiting and screening several applicants.

If you would like to apply for a Durham 911 operator position, click here.

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